2013 – A Gardening Year in Review

In previous posts, I have emphasized the importance of planning before digging but equally important is taking time to assess what succeeded and failed during the past growing season.
With a well below average cold winter in progress in central Texas, which is testing our garden’s endurance, it’s a good time to evaluate the past year’s gardening experience and lessons learned.

I started the year with a goal of transitioning to more native and cold hardy adaptive selections. This proved to be a prophetic and wise decision. Although several plants such as Barbados Cherry and Calamondin Orange have shown damage this winter from several hard freezes down to 20 degrees, they should recover in spring. Any non-hardy plants too large to fit into my small greenhouse are being eliminated. In some cases like Agaves, where pups are produced, a pup will be retained in the greenhouse for downsized growing next season. The jury is still out on other plants as freeze damage is often delayed. I have shifted from trying to cover-protect marginal in-ground plants during occasional freezes to a survival of the fittest garden by using plants adaptive to expected extremes, Having a small greenhouse becomes a real asset and money saver as marginal plants can be safely over-wintered for use in the coming year such as Bulbine, Pentas, and newly propagated plants needing more maturity before planting in spring.

Specifically, I decided to replace Heart leaf Skullcap with Mountain pea. The former proved to be only a cool season perennial which is highly invasive and hard to eliminate, The latter is a beautifully textured slow spreading, all season ground cover which is unaffected by hard freezing. Put that one in the plus column! Also a good move was to eliminate Zexmenia, a die back perennial, with Purple Skullcap, an evergreen perennial similar to pink Skullcap in size and texture

I also collected Bluebonnet seed and learned how and when to transplant seedlings for integration into the spring garden in a planned, not random manner. Once germinated, bluebonnet plants are freeze proof.

As our trees continue to grow, micro environments change. Lawn areas that were mostly sunny when we planted buffalo grass have become shaded causing decline. Those areas will be replaced with shade tolerant dwarf Mondo Grass adding another texture to the landscape. Another alternative is more shade tolerant Habiturf developed by the LBJ Wildflower Center. Word is it will be available as sod in 2014,

Another lesson learned was that our xeriscape designing did not predict erosion areas well, so corrective actions will include some replacement of hardwood mulched pathways with small river rock, and creation of mini-berms to slow water flow from heavy rain on sloped areas. Two years ago, we spread 3 inches of native hardwood mulch and will need to refresh it this winter. This is good news as the decomposition has enriched and improved topsoil texture.

Our decision and action to transform our entire yard to a xeriscape has reduced maintenance and water usage significantly and continues to reward us – best garden decision ever made.

So, what’s your assessment of your gardening experiences during the past year? Taking time to think about it will help you succeed and improve your gardening enjoyment In the coming year. Although this article addresses central Texas, the same philosophy works well wherever you garden. Winter is a great time to assess and develop your garden plan and strategy for spring and beyond. Preparatory work, mental and physical, to make those adjustments during winter will keep your gardening enthusiasm going strong while we are waiting for spring to come.

NEW LANDSCAPING THEORY 101

Why, oh why do we let developers get away with landscape felonies like

-       Sodding with water thirsty, disease prone St Augustine grass in central Texas
-       planting Ligustrum, Indian Hawthhorne, Privet, Pampas Grass, and other totally inappropriate or invasive plants.
-       Volcano mounding of mulch around newly planted tree for aesthetic appearances – a potentially deadly mistake.

It’s the cheapest materials they can use to maximize their profit and provide an instant “good look” to the property they are trying to sell, and/or
They just don’t have any landscaping or horticultural expertise on board, and/or
They don’t care because once a sale is made, it’s not their problem.
They win, the home purchaser loses.

What inspired this writing was a plea for help from a young couple who purchased a home 3 months earlier but didn’t know much about landscaping.  The house is about 10 years old and has confederate jasmine climbing over the second story windows and roof,  ligustrums out of control,  upright junipers impeding the entryway, and pampas grass planted to hide utility boxes near the sidewalk.   This is typical of many similar situations where home purchasers inherit the malpractice of the developers in creating future problems that won’t be their responsibility once the home is sold.

What if, developers offered a reduced price (landscaping allowance) to allow a new homeowner the freedom to landscape properly from the get-go by a professional of their choice or allowed the buyer to choose what goes in initially – including the wise choice of water-wise plantings.  It would make more sense to sell a new home property with a blank landscaping palate so there won’t be a price to pay in the future.  A new home purchaser should consider that if you don’t have time or incentive to do it right the first time, where is the time and resources to redo it .  The home owner pays twice, up front, and to fix it later.

What if, in our critical water crisis in central Texas, cities could require water wise landscapes and have that as part of the inspection process?  Landscapes consume over 30% of our water usage and that could be drastically reduced by wise up-front landscape planning.

What if  purchasers of existing homes took landscaping into consideration in negotiating a purchase price –  reduced home value due to expense necessary to remove and replace overgrown or unsightly landscapes.  On the other hand,  the value of mature trees adds to property value,    In shopping for a new home, most people pay full attention to the structure and layout of the building but hardly any attention to the property itself.  Hidden costs lurk everywhere, interior and exterior.

So if this article doesn’t seem to relate to gardening,  reconsider that thought.  There is considerable expense related to maintenance of a yard and related landscaping,  plus water restrictions due to severe drought, and much of these impacts can be minimized by up-front landscape planning.  In addition, curb appeal is dollars in the bank if you ever have to sell a home.   Exterior decorating is as important as interior decorating as it is the only part that is publically seen.

If builders would incorporate energy efficient and resource conservation features in homes such as solar panels, and  water-wise landscapes during new construction, it is easier and far less expensive to the home buyer to pay any additional cost as part of a mortgage as compared to having to pay a higher price for rehab work later.

If you currently have a landscape that needs reworking, don’t wait until it’s time to sell your house to improve it, but do landscape renovation now so you can enjoy the benefits while living there,  help reduce water usage,  and reduce your maintenance work and cost.   It’s the old “pay me now or pay me later” scenario that will make your up-front investment pay off down the road.

Of course, I must conclude with the strong recommendation that all landscapes in central Texas should be water-wise, using native and adaptive plants, for both newly developed and existing properties.

Some Foliage Makes Good Scents in the Garden

Ah, the fragrance of the garden, as we stick our noses into a flower bloom.  But wait a minute, flowers often only bloom for short periods and during specific seasons, and most flowers don’t have fragrance but attract pollinators by other means such as color, shape, texture, etc.  Many of our favorite fragrant flowers like roses have lost their fragrance due to continual hybridization.   What is one to do to keep our gardens fragrant?

There are so many ornamental features of plants we enjoy such as flower type and color, foliage texture, color and shape, ornamental bark, seeds, and buds, plant shape,  etc.  But often overlooked is foliar fragrance.   Yes, we can have a fragrant garden year round, not just when certain flowers are in bloom!

As I was walking through our xeriphytic garden the other day, I was almost overcome by the minty, tangy smell of the Copper Canyon plant.  Then, as I began trimming back Chrysanthemums for fall bloom, it’s unique fragrance was delightful.   I just can’t pass Sanolina or Rosemary without snipping off a piece to smell.   You can also pick up the fragrance of Artemesia wafting in the air.  Like minty licorice odor – try smelling Mexican Mint Marigold.   Verbena also treats you to a nice odor when trimmed.   Wax Myrtle has particularly fragrant foliage that says “come smell me”.  Any citrus plant that we can grow offers both fragrant flowers and foliage.  Bee Balm and any plant in the mint family, such as Lantana, Peter’s Purple Monarda or Salvias also offers foliar  flavoring to the garden.  If you grow herbs, the choices of fragrances there are pretty broad.  I particularly can’t resist scented geraniums as a pot plant.

 What is your favorite fragrant plant?  I know I have  failed to mention many others, but have focused on those I currently grow and enjoy.

Another advantage of including scented foliage to your garden is deer resistance.  Deer just don’t like their food spicy!  So, when planning your garden plantings, add foliar fragrance to your list of delights that will make your garden more enjoyable.  It makes good scents.  Some of the strongest are shown below.

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Copper Canyon Daisy (Tagated lemmonii). Flowers not fragrant – foliage is!

LEARNING BY TROWEL AND ERROR

Just when you think you’ve researched all the alternatives and learned everything about choosing the right plant for any given location,  you are humbled.

I look at our xeriscaped yard and landscape as an experimental  outdoor laboratory, where I can test various plants for performance over a period of a year or more.  I used book and internet references from reliable sources to choose carefully those native and adaptive plants that should work well in our landscape design and plan.

If experience tells the tale, I would estimate that in the past two years, we have replaced around 20 percent of the original plantings based on “trowel and error” – putting something in that didn’t meet expectations or do well in a given location. Texas Betony was replaced by Martha Gonzales roses,   Heartleaf  Skullcap was replaced with Mountain Pea,  Zexmenia  and Nolina texana were replaced with Purple Skullcap, and the jury is still out on some other plants like Blackfoot Daisy which often dies after blooming – thought it was a reliable evergreen perennial!   Powis Castle Artemesia is about to be replaced due to it’s rapidly sprawling habit, and unattractive appearance when pruned back  Now I know that the plants that didn’t work for me have proven to work well for other area gardeners – it may be just a case of location, location, location.  They were just put into the wrong piece of real estate.

Reliable plant references are wonderful tools for planning a garden area, and are based on well researched information, but when the roots hit the soil, the proof is in the plant’s performance in the location planted.   Trowel and Error!

There are so many native and adaptive plants suitable for Central Texas that we all can’t grow each and every one of them (as much as I would love to), so occasionally switching out selections for different ones provides me and other gardeners an opportunity to learn  by a gardener’s “on-the-job experience”.   So, I continue to research alternative and new plants for which I have no experience through conversation with a network of  Austin Garden Blogger friends who have.  Sharing information in this way broadens the academic approach to learning about plants to real-life experiences which may or may not contradict  written sources.

So, why worry about whether you made a good choice when adding a new plant to your garden.   Give it your best educated guess based on your research, plant it, learn from your experience, then share it with others.   “Trowel and error” is often the best way to learn and learning is  FUN!

“FROSTING ON THE CAKE” FOR YOUR SUMMER GARDEN

No doubt about it – our native and adaptive plants put on quite a show during the heat of summer without any additional help.  But,  what if you want to add a little more color or diversity to your garden?

Here are a few recommendations:

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Caladium mixture container grown

For foliage color, you just can’t beat Caladiums.  Not only do they love the heat, but brighten up any shady spot – yes, they do require shade.  The myriad of colorful foliage colors and patterns that are available make this an even more exciting and diverse planting for summer.    Even though they are planted for summer growing conditions, these plants are very sustainable  for use year after year.  In other words, they are annuals that are perennial in nature if you merely dig the bulbs, place them in a dry peat/perlite mix in a plastic bag, and just store them in the garage or any dark place overwinter.   By spring, they are starting to sprout in the bag so just replant them and within two  weeks, the color parade is on again.  They  are tropical plants and do require temperatures above 50 degrees.  Do not leave them in the ground or exposed pots during winter.  I am on my 4th year of growing Caladiums from the original source.   They also reproduce fast so your initial investment will multiply.   Caladiums make excellent potted plants and as such require more frequent watering  than terrestrial planting.    When the growing season for Caladiums is over, they are dug and replaced with something for the colder weather season.

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Bougainvillea submerged in nursery containers

Another outstanding plant  with a tremendous variety of floral color for the summer season is Bougainvillea.    There are even colorful variegated foliage cultivars to go with floral perfusion of pink, magenta, purple, red, white, orange, peach, and lavender floral colors.  This plant, like Caladiums, needs temperatures above 50 degrees thus requiring winter protection, but unlike Caladiums, require full sun to do best.   They can be allowed to grow as a vine or pruned to grow in shrub form. Bougainvillea bloom on new growth, so pruning often encourage this. Bougainvillea like to have their soil go dry between watering.  This encourages blooming.  They will let you know when they need water when foliage wilts, but recovers fast with watering.  I have reduced the number of tropical plants I grow and overwinter in my hobby greenhouse, but will not ever do without Bougainvillea. Bougainvillea don’t like to have their roots disturbed or be transplanted, so I grow mine in 5 gallon nursery containers and bury the entire container and plant in the ground for summer.  Roots will grow out through the drainage holes and top growth will be restrained by  the bounded roots, keeping this potentially fast growing plant under control.  In late fall, I dig up the container, prune off the “escaped” roots and prune the plant back to the width of the container itself for overwintering.

Anther tender favorites for additional color in summer include Euphorbia tirucalli ‘sticks on fire’ -  aka pencil plant.  This cultivar produces new growth that looks like it is on fire – orange and yellow coloring above the greener base.  This plant is so easy to overwinter – just keep one branched stalk,  let the sap dry, plant in a small pot and keep it above 50 degrees.  It will revert to green when taken out of full sun but recolor when the full sun returns in the summer garden.   Remember that the white sap of Euphorbias is toxic.

 You might also try Euphorbia milii Thailand hybrids) aka crown of thorns.  These hybrids can produce a perfusion of colorful coin shaped flowers from white, yellow, orange, pink to red.

 

One more to consider.  Try Pedillanthus,  aka zigzag plant, red bird, or devil’s backbone.  The variegated form is preferred due to the added foliage color.  The erect stalks, zigzagging back and forth with attractive variegated foliage takes up little garden space,  and will treat you to small red bract-like blooms in summer.  Once again, it is so easy to keep overwinter, like the pencil plant, being a  Euphorbia, only one stalk is needed to perpetuate it the next warm growing season.  They are very drought tolerant, love full sun , but will do well in light shade, plus add a different  texture to your garden.

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Remember also that there are many species of tropical agaves in colorful variegated forms that also can be used as potted plants or in-situ during the summer months, in full sun and heat endurance, provided they get the needed winter protection.

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Agave meridensis ‘Joe Hoak’ – a colorful but tender agave

Also,  for shade, don’t overlook Bromeliads.  They have been hybridized so much to produce stunning colorful plants ideal for shady areas.   Neoregelias do best in the heat  along with Billbergias.  Their colorful hybrids exceed that of Caladiums in terms of color diversity and patterns.  They reproduce easily from pups at the base and take up little space in a greenhouse other protected winter location.I’m sure there are many other possibilities for adding seasonal color to your ornamental garden through use of tropical plants.  But those mentioned are plants I have had personal experience and success with and would highly recommend to others.

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Colorful Neoregelia hybrids

These summertime supplements never will become a substitute for our beautiful native and adaptive plants which have produced spectacular year-round color in our garden, but I consider them to be the “frosting on the cake” for gardeners.

A DREAM GARDEN!

As I turn 70 years old today,  I marvel at the total xeriphytic landscape we have constructed in fall and winter of 2011 from which we are now seeing  results of our hard work.  It is truly a dream garden in every sense.  It requires little to no watering,  no chemical fertilizers or pesticides,  very little maintenance,  attracts wildlife of all sorts (birds, butterflies, amphibians, mammals, and beneficial insects such as honeybees ).  The use of native and adaptive plants provide a riot of color for all seasons, and it is durable and hardy.   We have received the City of Austin Green Garden Award, and have been certified by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife as a certified backyard habitat. – very important since we are destroying natural habitat for wildlife at an alarming rate.

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We enjoy sitting on our new environmentally friendly composite and stainless steel wired deck which gives us a 180 degree view of it all.   We love to see and hear the purple martins who reside in our martin houses in spring,  followed by migratory and local birds feeding from our feeder or bathing in our birdbath.   Our selection of native plants is also a draw to other types of wildlife.   Being environmentally friendly is so easy and rewarding.   You just need to decide to do it.

We must get away from our old paradigm and custom that only a green turf grass lawn is acceptable and to be desired in our residential landscape.  First of all,  a solid area of samo samo green grass is boring.  To maintain it means using excessive amounts of our diminishing water supplies, plus chemical fertilizers and pesticides which easily wash into our storm sewers and into previously unpolluted water courses.  Then as the grass grows,  it’s constant mowing in our hot environment.  Lawn mowers are significant sources of COemissions which add  to global worming.  This all just doesn’t make good or common sense!

A water wise landscape (also referred to as xeriscape) doesn’t mean desert-looking, it means water saving.  Additionally it means much less effort required to maintain an aesthetically beautiful garden, while  protecting and enhancing our environment.   In our case, our front yard xeriscape doesn’t contain a single desert plant but looks like a natural woodland landscape – but with a big difference – use of native and adaptive plants., while reducing lawn area to 25% using native buffalo grass.

OK, I’m not into vegetable gardening.  Ours is entirely ornamental.  But, veggie gardens can we as water efficient as ornamentals.  I’m not really qualified to talk on that subject but know there is a wealth of information available should you choose to use part of your land area for this use.   The whole idea is to garden in harmony with our local environmental challenges.

Having lived on many different gardening environments (tropical southern Florida, northern Virginia, east Tennessee,  Houston and the Gulf Coast),  I have always “gone with the flow” and developed my gardens compatible with the local environment, and have found each geographic area capable of providing beautiful garden options using native and adaptive  plants.  I have always had hobby greenhouses to grow favorite plants from other climate areas (bromeliads, tropical, etc.), and integrate these plants into my summer garden while protecting them in winter in the greenhouse.  Yet, I marvel at what our challenging gardening environment in central Texas can provide us without having to import plants from other areas that won’t thrive or thrive so well, they become invasive.

Another wonderful advantage to a xeriscape is the ability to become really creative and artistic in designing, using a variety of live and inorganic materials, to create a natural look that says “This is central Texas”.   It is also easy to alter those designs if you wish to create a different look from time to time.  It’s creating something that is anything but boring.

Take a look at our xeriscaped back yard at www.centraltexasgardening.info/xeribackyard.html  and see what I am talking about.   It’s not a wild scape but uses native plants intentionally as part of an overall garden design.  You can also see how we went from a St. Augustine lawn, front, side and back, to a total xeriscaped yard at www.centraltexasgardening.info/xeriscapeproject.html .  Yes it took hard work and investment for materials, but the recurring rewards and benefits are so significant, I wish we had done it sooner.

I am a convert and now a strong advocate of xeriscaping.  Our large subdivision, Avery Ranch in Austin has adopted HOA approved guidelines and promotes this in conjunction with the City of Austin’s programs to conserve water and promote water-wise landscaping.     I have developed a love and appreciation for our local environment and note that this trend is catching on slowly but surely.

 

 

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We now have our dream garden – never could I have thought that just surrendering to what our local environment allows and provides could create such a beautiful  setting in which to live and enjoy.   It took me 70 years to learn that lesson.!  Now we can truly slow down and smell the roses!

IN THE BLEAK MID WINTER – GARDENER’S PLAN!

As I write this,  it is bone-chilling, foggy, soggy, gray, and just plain “stay indoors” weather outside, but my mind is churning with thoughts and new ideas for the coming garden growing season ahead.  It’s the ideal time to be assessing what you have done the past year, what success has it had, what changes and improvements can be made, and what can we do this coming year that is different. 

This past year, we made dramatic changes to our landscaping, transforming the entire yard and garden from water consuming St. Augustine lawn to a totally xeriphytic design as seen on Central Texas Gardener’s Sept 15th On-Tour segment, and as shown on our website, Central Texas Gardening.   The results have exceeded expectation and have saved this aging gardener much labor and stress this past year making it easy to maintain and enjoy a neat looking garden year-round. 

OK,  where do I go from there?  I am not a  type of gardener who wants to see the same thing year after year, so I must make some changes to add new interest to what was  planned to be a stable, maintenance free garden design.   Here’s where the fun comes in  and you can let loose those creative thoughts.

Let’s see – I can transplant,  replace and replant new native and adaptive plants,  move hardscaping features around to create different design effects,  and make further improvements to the existing garden.   Among those on my thought list include:

Add spotlighting to show off the backyard xeriscape garden at night

Complete a stepping stone pathway to make a 360 degree garden walkway around the house, currently  just 270 degrees.,

Create a more permanent and visually appealing compost bin

Move my washtub water lily garden from the deck and place it in the yard itself

Research other plant alternatives to those I have planted for possible replacement so I can experiment and learn first hand about their impact on attracting wildlife

Continue to study and learn about native and adaptive plant possibilities for our central Texas area that I hadn’t considered previously

So, it’s not the time to be digging or planting, but visions of “what if’s” keep dancing in my head as I envision possible changes that would add new interest in the coming year.    Wish I could take a photo of some of them as they keep me happily thinking about the ever changing  joys of gardening and bring home the realization that an ornamental garden is perpetually a work in progress, and would be boring if it weren’t. 

Don’t let the bleak days of mid winter dull your senses and enthusiasm as these days are as important to take advantage of as your active seasonal gardening days outdoors.    Start your planning process now!  What get’s put on paper, generally get’s done and stimulates our longing to be actively out in the garden again. 

ARE LANDSCAPE PROFESSIONALS “PROFESSIONAL”?

You hire a “landscape professional” because they should, and you assume they do,  know their business and are knowledgeable about horticulture, right?  Bad assumption!  This is one service profession that uses more unskilled labor than most, which are often sent to do work not properly trained and/or unsupervised, and can burn you big time by making critical mistakes that are more costly to you in the long run.  Since a majority of such these very hard working people are Spanish speaking, communications can be a problem.  Whether it be to construct a new landscape or maintain an existing one, certain practices used are just plain incorrect and will lead to undesired results. Some of the biggies include:

Mowing lawn at improper heights

Use of weed and feed chemicals – a real no-no!

Fertilizing at the wrong time of year

Pruning trees and shrubs at wrong time of year

“Crepe Murder” and butchering rather than properly pruning plants other than Crepe myrtle.

Mulching incorrectly (piling mulch around base of trees)

Planting and staking trees incorrectly resulting in girdling and injury

This is not to say that there aren’t true professionals out there who really know their business.  It is just a warning to be careful who you hire before spending the big bucks for their services.  One way to prevent this is to become more knowledgeable yourself and learn proper gardening and landscaping practices even though you hire out the labor.   Let’s briefly go through the list above.

Mowing lawn at improper heights:  Different turf grasses require different maintenance practices.  St. Augustine should be mowed at no less than 3” high as this warm weather grass requires moisture around the roots and taller cuts shade  the roots to reduce ground water evaporation.  Zoysia and Bermuda can be cut to 1 to 2 inches high but also benefit from not being scalped.  A scalped lawn will suffer greatly during drought and extreme heat.   Buffalo grass should rarely be mowed and if trimmed, left to 3-4” height.

Use of Weed and Feed products:  This is a scam to say the least.  The weed killer is for pre-emerging weed seed only and should be applied during late before germination whereas the feed elements are of no use for warm weather grasses until late spring and early summer when active growth begins.  The toxicity of the weed killer can also kill your trees and shrubs.   Don’t waste your money on these and help keep our environment healthy.

Fertilizing at the wrong time of year:  When plants are entering or in natural dormancy, they should never be fertilized.  When plants/lawns begin active growth is the proper time to do this.  There is no better fertilizer than natural compost and other organic fertilizers which aid in feeding the micro-organisms in the soil that are beneficial to plant root growth.   Knowing the right fertilizer formula and elements and when to apply them is also important.  To do otherwise could cause harm to your plants/lawn and just waste money.

Pruning trees and shrubs at the wrong time of year:  In the case of Live Oak and Red Oaks,  pruning from February thru June is a no-no!  This is when the tiny Nitidulid Beetle which spreads this disease is most active. Other pruning, e.g. shrubs, should be done in fall for deciduous plants and spring for evergreens as pruning encourages new growth and the season must be right for this.

“Crepe Murder”:  Never prune more than one-third of any shrub at any time.  A major crime to your crepe myrtles is to cut them back more than that, or in the case of mature plants, only tip prune old seed pods when dormant and if out of reach, don’t prune at all.  Cutting back severely causes weakened supportive growth and stunting.   Proper pruning can help you shape your plant or small tree when done at the correct time as mentioned above.  A tall shrub can be pruned to grow tree-form or as a shaped shrub over time.  You can always prune more, but never replace portions of a plant once cut.

Mulching incorrectly:  Placing a mound of mulch around a shrub or tree base (known as volcano mulching) does more harm than good.  Somehow, landscapers get the idea that this looks good, so why not do it.  Here’s why.  There is a distinct separation of plant growth zones between roots and the above ground growth (stem/trunk).  If part of the trunk is buried, those plant cells will differentiate and begin producing roots above ground level, plus bark can be more easily infected by disease organisms.  The benefits of mulching are tremendous, but not in contact with the base of plants or trees.

Planting and staking trees incorrectly:  When a new tree is planted, it is always best to start with as small a plant as is acceptable, knowing it will take so many years for it to grow to maturity.  In the case of planting more mature trees, often stakes with padded wires are looped around the trunk are attached to provide stability while roots are getting established.  Never should such staking last more than 2 years, or even less if possible.  The trees are growing in width as well as height and the  expanding trunk will override the attached supports this weakening the trunk or even girdling it which will result in death of the tree.  Staking should only be done if absolutely necessary!

This covers some of the biggest, but not all the mistakes I’ve observed on a recurring basis.  So, when in doubt about whether a landscaping or maintenance contractor is doing the right thing,  try consulting third party  knowledgeable, sources for advice, such as trained master gardeners, or persons affiliated with non-profit horticultural help organizations.   “Let the buyer beware” especially applies to the professional landscape and maintenance businesses which are not subject to following accepted  and proven horticultural practices.   The customer pays the price in more ways than one.  Below are some examples of plant crimes committed by landscape professionals!   I love the picture of the topped Agave! It’s too sad to be funny!

LANDSCAPE DESIGN USING MS OFFICE

If you want to go to the next step up from hand drawing and sketching a landscape plan, you need not buy fancy or specialized landscaping software to do so.

If you have MS Office for Windows or Mac on your computer, you have landscape design software!   After frustration exploring various landscape software, none of which did all that I wanted and involved a new learning curve to use it effectively,  I discovered that everything the homeowner and average gardener needs is contained in your basic MS Office package (Excel, PowerPoint, and Word).   OK, you can’t create professional 3D designs, but in the planning process, you can do 2D layouts with Excel,  pictures of proposed plantings as a PowerPoint collage, and description of a landscape in Word.

First, you need to do some actual measuring of your garden area and sketch the dimensions on a pad,  then using Excel, set column width equal to row height and you have graph paper.  The size will depend on the area you are designing.  A front or back yard might have a general master layout with sub pages for defined area in order to allow for more detail – a Workbook containing several worksheets.   So, if each box equals 1 square foot (or other designation), that provides the measurement aspect.  In Excel, you can draw area borders, insert and edit shapes and lines, insert text boxes, using different line and area fills or even pictures inserted into a shape as a fill.  The tools are there to support your creativity.  Who says Excel is only good for spreadsheets!


HERE IS A CHURCH MEMORIAL  GARDEN DESIGN DONE WITH MS EXCEL

 In PowerPoint, I like to supplement an Excel layout with pictures of the various plants proposed.  The same tools that are in Excel are available in PowerPoint, including direct importing of pictures onto a page to create a collage of plant materials.  You can use the various shapes, edit them for color or fill to create landscape symbols that can be copied from a PowerPoint page onto the Excel layout grid, then resizing according to the plants ultimate spread and the grid.  I even go as far as to put a colored border on plant shapes to reflect the color of the flower that plant will produce, or a fill that reflects the plants foliage color.  Centers can be left blank for deciduous, filled to reflect evergreen  or gradient to reflect semi-evergreen.   Hardscape items such as fountains, containers, stepping stones, benches, vines, bordering bricks, etc can also be developed in this manner using the drawing tools in this software.  So you can develop your own landscape symbols using this common software.

BELOW IS A POWERPOINT COLLAGE SHOWING PLANTS SELECTED IN THE DESIGN

Finally,  I use Word to provide description, materials needed, work phasing, cost estimates or any other narrative that helps define or describe the landscape plan. Then I create a folder and insert the layout plan in Excel, plant and hardscape pictures in PowerPoint, and Word documents describing and supporting the plan.

If you are a professional landscape designer, you can purchase landscaping 3D software costing up to $400 to make an impressive presentation for clients.  But if you are a homeowner and gardener, you can use your existing MS Office software to do the same thing (less the height and depth dimensions that 3D provides) for no additional expenditure.   Another problem with professional software is that it will contain images of plants not appropriate for central Texas, so you’re paying for features that are not applicable.

In this post, I have provided a few examples.  Give it a try and put your everyday software to use in a new way to design your landscape.